Red 2

Red 2 is a couple hours of pretty enjoyable entertainment. But you have to be careful to not stop and think too much about these characters, as they don’t really make any sense at all.

You will probably like Red 2 if you enjoyed:
Red
Dumb and Dumber
Lethal Weapon 2 and 3
Pacific Rim

If you don’t like movies that use good actors in wasted roles and that wink at the audience, Red 2 is probably not for you.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 19, 2013

Written by John Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Warren Ellis, and Cully Hammer. Based on the comics.

Directed by Dean Parisot

Starring Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, and Brian Cox

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Frank Moses (Willis) has been out of the spy game for a while now, trying to settle down and make a life with Sarah (Parker). Out shopping, they run into Marvin (Malkovich), who informs Frank that somebody has uncovered Marvin and Frank’s participation in something called Operation Nightshade and now people are gunning for them in order to find a nuke hidden in Moscow.

To stay alive, Marvin and Frank will have to team up with some of their former cronies and find the nuke before anyone else. In the meantime, the best assassin in the world, Han (Lee), is after them and Victoria (Mirren) has also been asked to take them out. Sarah insists she wants to join Frank and Marvin on their journey, as she is clearly bored by the life she and Frank have been living, but along comes Katja (Zeta-Jones), a former flame of Moses, who might be able to help Frank and Marvin get out of the fix they’re in.

So Frank, Marvin, and the rest have to find the scientist who invented the nuke and who might know were it is. The problem is that this scientist has been locked up for more than 32 years. This is Bailey (Hopkins), and he is clearly somewhat off his rocker.

Along this seasoned group goes, firing countless bullets at all takers and basically doing their best to steamroll through all the baddies. Loyalties will be tested, as will love.

Critique

For all the hyperactivity of the fight scenes and enthusiastic effort of the players, Red 2 feels somewhat flat and generally like a bunch of people playing in the same sandbox without much direction or leadership. It feels as if the entertaining scenes were conceived in a vacuum and story was written to try to string these scenes together.

You can almost imagine the writers and director having a conversation. “Okay, so Sarah’s kind of a ditz, so we need a scene where her ditziness messes things up. Oh yeah, and also she needs to be clueless about guns.”

“Good one! Hey, let’s also have Victoria kick everyone’s ass and then deliver a zinger of a one-liner. ”

“Nice! Of course, we also need to see Moses and Marvin have plenty of banter and Moses needs to be in some awkward situations between his current love and his former flame. Willis can just mug here.”

“Good plan!”

So the story is decidedly formulaic, but where The Heat used its characters to freshen up the formula and bring sharp, intelligent dialogue into the scenes, Red 2′s dialogue is too often totally predictable and far too self-aware– winking at the audience as we are all in on the joke that these are old people delivering lines that a younger tough would usually deliver.

All of that said, here we also have consummate actors doing great work and having a lot of fun. Helen Mirren is a joy to watch, with her diminutive frame and sophisticated bearing, as she beats the tar out of people and seems to enjoy it. Malkovich steals every scene he’s in with manic energy and great timing. Zeta-Jones is a little underused; as it seems that her character is a plot device only. Hopkins has a great time and is fun to watch, although his character makes zero sense if you stop and think about him. And Bruce Willis, sadly, phones a lot of his scenes in, although there are a couple of scenes where we get to see his comedic timing.

The biggest tragedy is the casting of Mary-Louise Parker as the too-often clueless and flighty Sarah. Sarah gets far too little to do, and when she does do something right, it makes absolutely no sense– we don’t understand how she knew to do what she did. Parker is better than this role.

All in all, Red 2 is somewhat better than its predecessor, but is still a little flat, a little too silly.

Content warnings: Plenty of explosive violence and a goodly amount of salty language.

Writing: 3          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3

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A Good Day to Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard is a good movie. It’s not great or all kinds of fun. It’s not fresh and sharp like the first three, or even the 4th. It’s not surprising and it’s not particularly well acted.

But it’s a good movie and provides some perfectly fine entertainment for about 90 minutes.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released February 14, 2013

Written by Skip Woods and Roderick Thorpe

Directed by John Moore

Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yuliya Snigir, Amaury Nolasco, and Cole Hauser. 

Rated: R

*     *     *     *      *

Story

John McClane (Willis), still a cop but definitely showing his age, is worried about his grown son, Jack (Courtney). We see McClane as he fires off a tight grouping in what would appear to be the NYPD’s firing range, where he is quickly joined by Murphy (Nolasco– and while we’re on the subject of Murphy– this guy is Latin. He calls McClane ‘papi’. And his name is Murphy? Seriously?) Murphy has tracked down McClane’s son, finding him in a Moscow jail, where he awaits trial for murder.

McClane gets a ride to the airport from his daughter Lucy (Winstead), who abjures her dad to not make a mess of things. It’s clear that McClane has no intention of getting into a fight; he just wants to see if he can help his boy.

All of this setup comes to pass against the backdrop of political unrest and betrayal in Russia. A wealthy scientist named Komarov (Koch) has been unjustly imprisoned and now waits to be put through a trial– all because the Russian defense secretary has a vendetta against him and is trying to get something the scientist has– a file of some kind.

But on the day McClane arrives in Moscow at the courthouse where his son is going to be, Jack breaks out with Komarov in quite an explosive fashion. McClane provides just enough of an obstacle to Jack that Jack misses his evacuation window– and it turns out Jack is probably CIA.

So a rather destructive car chase ensues, during which McClane saves Jack’s skin and the two end up together, both working to reunite Komarov with his daughter and get the file which can be used to stop a potentially awful Russian regime.

Of course, there are a couple of twists which most audience members will see coming from quite a long way off. But there are plenty of explosions and there is a high body count, along with some super-slow-motion scenes in which McClane and Jack take the kind of beating that a superhero could take.

In case you’re wondering, McClane’s signature line of “Yippi-ki-yay…” is said, but is wasted and is far too easy to miss.

Critique

The movie starts strong. McClane is old and shows it in his tired gait and somewhat drawn face. We wonder why this guy is still just a basic cop after all the heroics he’s performed over the years, but he’s clearly mellowed in his later years. A few scenes are allowed to take their time to develop– allowing a bit of access to otherwise fairly standard characters.

But character development, wry and somewhat vulnerable humor, and pretty much all the enjoyment of the older movies take a back–waaaaaay back– seat as some very impressively choreographed and executed action set pieces unfold. The action is ambitious, loud, and furious. But it’s not invested with the connection we had with the previous movies, particularly in the first Die Hard.

I wonder if John McTiernan could fix this franchise?

In any case, a perfect moment that sums up everything this movie has to offer is the first punch that McClane throws. It’s louder than a gunshot and echoes off the theater walls, sounding as if a kraken has just snapped a mountain in two. It’s so far over the top that it couldn’t see the top with the Hubble. It strains credulity so much, and is followed by sprained credulity, that the movie falls pretty flat. It’s still watchable, because, well… Bruce Willis, but it doesn’t satisfy the Die Hard need.

Yes, the two wind up with a variety of bumps and scrapes, but that glass scene in the first Die Hard is so perfect because this is a mortal– but totally relentless and driven– hero. We just don’t see this in A Good Day to Die Hard.

I want John McClane to have his heroic ride into the sunset. I predict that with the next, and hopefully last, Die Hard film, he will get this ride and he will be with his grown children. This series deserves a worthy send-off, and A Good Day to Die Hard is not that worthy send-off.

Content warnings: Loads of action violence and salty language. 

Writing: 2.5          Acting: 3          Overall: 3

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The Expendables 2

The Expendables 2 is an over the top splatter-fest populated by almost every iconic action hero of the last thirty to forty years, plus some others. In other roles, these actors are often charming and/or engaging.

In Expendables 2, they’re pretty much boring. It’s strange for a movie with so much action to be so incredibly uninteresting and bland. That said, there are a few effective moments, notably the meta, self-deprecating humor that sprinkles in.

Here’s the trailer:

The deets:

Released August 17, 2012

Written by Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone, Ken Kaufman, David Agosto, and Dave Callaham

Directed by Simon West

Starring Nan Yu, Charisma Carpenter, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzzeneger, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Liam Hemsworth, and Randy Couture.

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The old crew is still working together, apparently as a principled mercenary force. Barney (Stallone) leads his crew on a daring rescue of a Chinese businessman, with Lee (Statham) there as what appears to be a co-captain of the squad. His team consists of Gunnar (Lundgren), Caesar (Crews), Toll Road (Couture), Yin Yang (Li), and Billy (Hemsworth). They break the businessman free, while at the same rescuing Trench (Arnie). Yin retires from the team at the end of this caper and Bill talks about leaving the team after the next job; he’s got a girl waiting for him.

Church (Willis) shows up and calls in the debt Barney owes him, getting the team to make a run to secure a package that is in the wreckage of a crashed plane. The team is joined by Church’s acquaintance, Maggie (Yu) for this job. But the baddies are there too and they kill one of Barney’s team in the process of making off with the package. The baddies are led by Vilain (Van Damme), who wants to make money off throwing the world into chaos.

Which, when thought through fully, makes zero sense.

So Vilain and Barney’s team are in a race to control a cache of weapons-grade plutonium. And the bullets are going to fly like crazy. And Chuck Norris shows up as a guy named Booker, although he really should have been called Deus Ex Machina. Explosive scenes ensue. Lots of bullets are fired. Plenty of blood splatters.

I bet you can predict how it all ends.

Critique

The Expendables 2 is predictable, exploding, intermittently entertaining stuff. Happily, the stars are smart enough to know that they need to be self-deprecating and that some meta-humor would be necessary to make the film more palatable. The problem is that, despite the whizz-bang action, it’s a boring movie. The characters aren’t authentic, and aren’t quirky or absurd enough to make it not matter that they’re not authentic. Every effort is made to keep things as complicated and explosive as possible.

It’s a generally joyless outing. There are moments of fun, but in general this movie doesn’t provide so much of a ride. Instead, it’s like a painting in motion– static characters posing through multiple different scenes.

There is plenty of inventive violence, to be sure. Moments are mined for clever quips as well. But it’s all somewhat lifeless because most of it seems like posturing rather than storytelling.

Not even a gamely trying Jean Claude Van Damme, or a very loose Jason Statham, could breathe any consistent life into this flick.

Content warnings: some language, nearly non-stop bloody violence

Writing: 2          Acting: 2          Overall: 2

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PS: You know there’s something rotten in the state of Rotten Tomatoes when this movie has a higher fresh score than John Carter. Something very rotten.

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Fire With Fire

Fire With Fire might have been a straight-to-DVD release, despite the talent in the film. And this would be unfortunate, as it is, despite the by-the-numbers unfolding of the story, a pretty good film that is elevated by solid performances. Vincent D’Onofrio is particularly good.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released August 21, 2012

Written by Tom O’Connor and Lowell Cauffiel

Directed by David Barrett

Starring Rosario Dawson, Josh Duhamel, Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinny Jones, 50 Cent, Bonnie Somerville, Richard Schiff, Kevin Dunn, and Julian McMahon

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

This is a story we’ve seen before. Regular, kind of a loser guy who is good with the ladies, is pushed into a perilous situation, reevaluates life based on true love, and is forced to do terrible things to keep his loved ones safe.

There’s not a lot of fresh about this movie’s storyline. But what Fire With Fire gets right is that these are regular, recognizable people and they behave like they should based on how their character’s goals and the story push them to behave.

Jeremy (Duhamel) is a bit of a hotshot firefighter with a couple of best friends, one of whom regularly prompts Jeremy to settle down and have a family. But Jeremy likes his life too much  to make any changes. One night after a massive fire, Jeremy and his pals go drinking and Jeremy stops into his neighborhood convenience store to pick up supplies. Three mean-looking Aryan Brotherhood-type men show up, led by Hagen (D’Onofrio). Hagen does horrible things and Jeremy barely escapes and is convinced to go into witness protection so that he can testify against Hagen, who is a sadistic crime boss.

Talia Durham (Dawson) is the US Marshall assigned to keep Jeremy safe- and she tames his wild heart. Cella (Willis) is the determined cop trying to nail Hagen and who also wants to keep Jeremy alive.

But Hagen finds Jeremy and now Jeremy has to take matters into his own hands if he’s going to keep those he loves safe. Fire With Fire, as you would expect, ends with a fiery, surprisingly tense climax.

Critique

This is a relatively formulaic action flick. Regular guy with bachelor values is forced into a situation and he turns a corner and must confront evil, using whatever resources he can get his hands on and relying on determination to get him through.

But Fire With Fire is not satisfied with the template. It makes sure that Jeremy really is a normal guy. This guy gets hurt, has the tar beaten out of him, and has a lot of trouble becoming a hero. When he inevitably does kill someone, he reacts strongly. He gets out of breath. Not wanting to be a hero and very scared for his safety, the woman he falls in love with becomes the leverage that pushes him to step into the darkness.

All of this is convincingly played by Duhamel. This is a human hero, really similar to Bruce Willis’ John McClane, making it very appropriate for Willis to be in this movie. Willis is far more laid back than in most roles, looking thin and haggard from the get-go. He is also very much by the book.

That is what Fire With Fire does well: it doesn’t take the easy way out, instead making sure that each character is true to him or herself. The heroic characters have flaws, make stupid mistakes, and have to scrape victory right out of the jaws of defeat. The bad guys are mean, but are human in their speech and behavior.

And the performances are very good. Vinnie Jones is a very good sardonic bruiser. D’Onofrio is excellent as a sadistic, terrifying madman. Peter Schiff adds realism and heart to the character of Hagen’s lawyer. Even 50 Cent is believable as a gang leader.

You know what else? These people get wet in the rain.

Fire With Fire is a strangely overlooked film. Not the best film ever, uneven in its pacing and transitions, and a little overwrought, but it’s enjoyable and very nearly believable.

Content warnings: some graphic violence and plenty of salty language and a little bit of sensuality

Writing: 3.0          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

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